Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Candy Store & Migrants Beyond Belief!

Each autumn, some little spot at Cape May Point becomes the place to look for southbound migrants. This year, that spot was the very plave where I work. The garden of the Northwood Center hosted an amazing array of birds daily for some five weeks and, for a while at least, it looked like it would never end! Most years one or two of the stately Siberian Elms, that have been widely planted in gardens because they are resistant to Dutch Elm Disease, plays host to waves of migrants and this year, that special tree - the Magic Tree - was right outside our window! So why Siberian Elms? Well for two reasons, both involving insects. Siberian Elms often ooze sap from their trunks and major side branches for some reason that remains a mystery to me and this sap attracts insects - which in turn attracts the birds. In addition, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are attracted to the sap too. Secondly, elms are primary or secondary hosts for a number of aphid species, some of which arrive on the elm trunks in huge numbers in the autumn - especially the group of insects known as woolly aphids. In fact, the generation of these insects that visits elm trunks is the winged generation, which is not woolly but that's just nature being complicated again!

So how did this manifest itself at the Northwood Center? Well, just take a look at this batch of pictures, all taken from the kitchen window at work!

Male Black-throated Blue Warbler. Contra what many people believe, many North American wood-warbler males retain full - or nearly full - breeding-type plumage throughout the year once they have reached maturity and are thus pretty smart even in autumn.

OK, this one's certainly not a bright boy, but it is our namesake bird so we always like to see them here. This is a first-winter female Cape May Warbler coming to the Candy Store.

A dapper Northern Parula clings to the vertical trunk to get at the treats lurking in the bark fissures.

An old favourite of mine, a young Magnolia Warbler.

A potential trap for the unwary. This Yellow Warbler had a dark mark on its crown which superficially made it look like a Wilson's Warbler, a species that's not common here - though regular in small numbers.

Another Magnolia Warbler stops by, this one more subtly streaked on the flanks.

A different Cape May Warbler, this time a young male with much more yellow in its plumage - but no orange cheek patch yet.

And just to show that it wasn't just warblers that came to the Candy Store; a Brown Creeper - one of four that spent more than a week with us.

Red-breasted Nuthatches have been literally pouring through the area in recent weeks, with some particularly impressive counts coming from Higbee's Dike.

A final little gem at the aphid feast - a male Downy Woodpecker attempts to look like a Constable painting!

And while queueing for their turn at the ultimate feast, many other birds roved through neighbouring trees, such as this Tennessee Warbler in a Grey Poplar next to my car....

....and this first-winter Chestnut-sided Warbler in the same tree - at times it really was difficult to know which way to turn!

Meanwhile, this young Blackburnian Warbler typically favoured nearby conifers.

Elsewhere, Cape May Point State Park's conifer stands which usually serve us proudly, seemed deprived of birds for some reason this year. However, I did pay a few lunchtime visits and came up with one or two secretive gems while everyone else was watching birds around Lake Lily.

Reward for quietly waiting in the shadows of the thicker clumps of trees came first in the form of this unusually obliging Veery....

....then I came across this wonderful Ovenbird which walked up a sloping branch and stared back at me just long enough for a few shots. The extremely low light levels made photography difficult and this retiring forest-floor dweller proved a tricky subject, but I don't think I did too badly. I certainly would have been happy with this shot if I had been back on my local patch on the clifftops in Norfolk!

Walking back through the more open wetland trails in the state park, I discovered that Prairie Warblers were all over the place, feeding low down in weedy corners. I liked capturing the moment that these two suddenly realised that they were working the same patch! These two are probably both first-winter birds - the left one a male, the right one a female.

Just to round off, here's a couple of shots of a really obliging Prairie Warbler that fed close to me as I just sat quietly on the edge of the boardwalk.

Well, September really is the peak month for the wood-warblers here and already I can't wait for next year to get another full dose of them. But, hey, we've got October to get through yet, with all those raptors and sparrows, then the ducks arriving to take us into November.....